The Mkuyu Story
Checking Camera-Trap Data - Mkuyu students learn a wide range of skills. This variety of skills and knowledge increases the potential work opportunities available to the students.
These are not empty words. Many of the Mkuyu students have only received a primary school level education, with most having varying levels of secondary completion, and a handful coming for further training from tourism colleges.
Like many rural Tanzanians, their stories reflect lives of hardship, disadvantage, and challenge. Though the students take these things in their stride, it is evident from their dedication and consistent hard work that each is grateful to be at Mkuyu.
This is particularly true for the increasing number of female students. Typically, being a safari guide is not a profession associated with women, but these girls are ready to see that change. Having a Maasai lady graduate from student to teacher at Mkuyu with the blessing of her family has been particularly significant. To Leonard, this represents an important and positive change in local attitudes towards the environment.
The future of his students is important to Leonard, as is the future of Tanzania’s wildlife and natural environments. In starting Mkuyu, he wanted to provide quality training and education that promoted positive environmental values as well as contributing to the betterment of his community.
“Tanzania has excellent wildlife, it’s really special, but we also have many social problems,” Leonard explains, “by employing Tanzanian guides, people’s lives are improved and our wildlife is seen as valuable to our society, which means more protection and cooperation in conservation."
"But Tanzanian’s don’t get employed as guides if they cannot communicate with tourists, and don’t know the bush intimately. Even less own their own safari or tourism businesses, so a lot of the income generated goes out of Tanzania. I want my students to know that they can not only be employed in good nature tourism jobs, but they could also own their own businesses or projects too. Why not? We Tanzanians don’t believe in ourselves enough!”
"Mambo Mousebird!" - Leonard believes in the value of hands-on learning out in the bush for his guide students.
Leonard Fidelis Kilumile spent many years working as a guide in Ruaha National Park, as well as travelling around to the local tourism colleges to train guide students. During this time, he noticed something that bothered him – many of the students had limited experience in the bush, and many more young people were unable to afford to attend tourism colleges. As a result, they often found it difficult to find jobs, particularly jobs with potential for them to advance their positions.
Along with some like-minded colleagues, Leonard began providing additional skills-based tuition informally using opportunistically available resources out in the bush, and quickly discovered that this approach was very effective. It was through this discovery that the seeds for Mkuyu Guiding School were planted.
“Who would have thought that all of the of the materials you need to learn about the bush are found out in the bush!” Leonard jokes with a joyful laugh, “we started with two students, both are now employed as guides, and there have been growing groups since then, all finding good work in their field.”
Mkuyu Guiding School - Like his students, Leonard lives in a tent in order to keep school fees as low as possible.
"Maybe a young person will go home and tell their family deeply from their heart about why they believe a change of ways is needed." - Mkuyu Guides birdwatching with community children.
Mkuyu Guiding School's four current female students with mentor Sara as part of the Lioness Mentoring Program.
“When you talk to a poacher, or anyone harming wildlife or the bush, they say to you ‘I am just following the ways of my father’,” Leonard explains, “so if we educate people, it becomes a wave of change."
"One of the guides here may teach someone the importance of the elephant or the bird to the natural resources that we depend on for our daily lives. Then that person – maybe a young person – will go home and tell their family deeply from their heart about why they believe a change of ways is needed. They may teach their children. This is how good changes happen.”
“For these reasons, Mkuyu guides train to be the best that they can possibly be – young people who have a range of skills, are well informed, capable, and able to take on any task presented to them,” Leonard continues, “because whatever profession they each end up in, they will all be educators for the future of our communities and our environment."
"We are all in the same river," Leonard says with a smile, "when we realise that, we will stop fighting against the elephant and the lion and the bush and each other, and instead we will come together for the good of all."
But it is more than just a quality education that Leonard’s Mkuyu students receive. For many, Mkuyu is also a home and a place of support & opportunities not usually available to them.
Recognising that rural and bush communities had many youth who were skilled and interested in the bush, but too disadvantaged to pursue the necessary education, Leonard keeps the tuition fees intentionally low, covering only basic accommodation and food for students at the school and making very little profit for additional resources. Like his students, Leonard lives on the Mkuyu school camp in a tent.
Once students complete their training, Leonard assists them in finding work and continues to mentor and support his students well into their employment.
“Nature is available to all, so I wanted to make Mkuyu available to all – low income, low education, girls, orphans, anyone who usually misses out is welcome at Mkuyu,” Leonard says with passion and sincerity.